Monday, March 06, 2006

Suffocating space

One reason I love the idea of balconies, and find them an ingenius archetecturial invention, is that they provide a space for "in-betweeness", in between in and out, in between private and public, thye maneouvre, they play, they stick their noses out and into other people's business perhaps.
In the first edition of Balconies we'd discussed Cairo Azhar Park as a new space for urban gathering and togetherness that navigated many differences. I found that the park pushed open such a space for city people to get together on a quasi class-neutral ground, a space we've been lacking for decades now. Some of the readers who commented on the bloc disagreed. On the contrary, they argued, the place made them feel uncomfortable as it charted such differences. We go to the same places and we feel different things. I pesonally felt quite comfortable there and not alienated, I didn't feel that the park was rudely imposed on the urban fabric of the area - perhaps with the prominent exception of the 5-star restaurant which doesn't provide good value for money.

Anyway, this long, long introduction is by way of explaining why it is that I am dismayed to read in Akhbar al-Adab that the small theatre inside the park might be closed down by order of the governor.
The theatre shares with the Saqiya of al-Sawi its being an affordable, open, tolerant urban space for people, especially young people, from all walks of life to share good times, their art and their ideas. During the summer several music festivals were hosted at the park's theatre, itself called "El-Geneina." Most of the bands and troupes that performed there weren't famous, mostly were composed of young women and men, often college students or right out of college. All had very affordable tickets. It was quite cheering to attend open air concerts at Geneina. One felt part of an urban space that wasn't contrived or alienating. The people who attended and performed were the remnants - some would say first buds - of that elusive Egyptian middle class. There was no ostentatious consumption there, no particular showing off. People spoke Arabic, mostly, to eachother in the intermission.... I felt I was in Cairo. And at night in summer it was a breath of fresh air, to be out, feel a hint of a breeze and listen to live music. Same thing with Sayiya on the Nile... who can imagine, under the bridge, but on the banks of the Nile, and finding such an urban oasis...

So now the governor wants to close down Geneina. And I suspect precisely for those reasons I found it comforting, cheering, and inspiring of hope. The article above mentions some objections to the poetry of Ahmad Foad Negm being recited or sung there by some band and it being inciteful or objectionable or whatever. Inciteful to what one doesn't particularly know although I suspect it's the mere presence of such an urban space that threatens some. Instead of banning that particular group and because, of course, we have no censorship in our free country, the whole theatre will be deemed a threat: to the environment, to public morals, to the neighbours, whatever. It's a threat.

I hope they live up to their undecided reputation and change their minds on that one...

Good morning, and, Good Luck ...

Since the Akhbar al-Adab story does not have its own url, I'll paste it in a separate posting below.


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